(written and performed by reynold d. philipsek 2018 copyright Zino-Rephi Music BMI)
In July of 2016 I stumbled upon a short video of a juggler doing his routine. The film was from the “silent era” and if I had to venture a guess it originated from some place in Western Europe in the early 1900’s. The juggler was a muscular man of about thirty years old. The juggler donned a thick waxed handlebar mustache.
As the video played I picked up my guitar and I began to play the arpeggiated figure that was to become the main theme for “The Juggler.”
This sort of spontaneous composition is a rare occurrence. Although Hollywood has for many years depicted the act of music composition as taking place in this sort of extraordinary manner in reality this seldom is the case.
In my life a piece of music has only “spontaneously” occurred to me five times. “Butterfly”, “Beatnik Pie”, “Sans Souci”, “Silesian Mist” and “The Juggler” are the only tunes that came to me all of a sudden and mostly complete. Generally a piece of music evolves from a single idea and takes time to develop fully.
“The Juggler” has all of the elements I try to gather in a composition-it is brief, concise and has a unique character all of it’s own.
Because I want this short piece of music to have a life of it’s own I asked my old friend John Hammond to create a video for it and this is it.
CLICK HERE to Listen Now
Milstein was a Ukrainian-born American virtuoso violinist.
Being a contemporary of the great Heifetz might have seemed an undue burden to some violinists, but Milstein rose to the challenge.
In his early days, he toured Russia with Horowitz, and toward the end of his life he recorded some of the best solo violin I have heard. The recordings of Bach Sonatas and Partitas are especially astounding in my opinion.
One reviewer said of his Bach recordings, “His style is a lethal combination of technical accuracy with emotional depth.”
There is also a very good two-part documentary on YouTube called “Master of Invention.” It was this film and seeing and hearing Milstein, quite late in life, perform these solo pieces that led me to this wonderful discovery of recorded gold. The journey of his long and storied life is also well essayed in this two part documentary.
I am always on the lookout for new inspiration and seeing a man in his eighties play with such élan is nothing short of inspirational.
My new passion.
There were several things that drew me to Weinberg and his music. The first thing was that his birth date of December 8 is something I share with him. Secondly he is of Polish origin (another thing I have in common with him), though he lived most of his life in Russia and is known as a Russian composer.
The first paragraph of his biography reads:
“There are composers whose lives were marked by the cataclysms of the ‘short twentieth century’; there are composers who deserve far more space than they have been allocated in histories of music; there are composers who were exceptionally prolific. Mieczyslaw Weinberg presents a rare case of all three in one.”
His life was tragic and heroic. He escaped the Holocaust in Poland only to live and work in Russia, and later be imprisoned there for charges of “Jewish bourgeois nationalism.” Only through the intervention of his friend Shostakovich was he eventually released.
Reflecting the tragedies and resolutions of his life, his music can be bright and hopeful one moment, and despairing the next. Though he is not well known here (or in Russia for that matter), some consider him “the third great Soviet composer along with Prokofiev and Shostakovich.”
Towards the end of his life, Weinberg suffered from Crohn’s disease and remained housebound for the last three years, although he continued to compose. It has been claimed he converted to Orthodox Christianity less than two months before his death in Moscow.
At any rate, I am currently exploring the life and music of this man.
Music history is replete with stories of artists meeting an early demise: Chopin, Django, Dinu Lipatti, William Kapell, and even Scriabin all passed on young.
Perhaps Lipatti and Kapell are less well known, but they are very important musicians in my estimation. Lipatti (1917-1950) was a fantastic composer and pianist who thankfully left us some recordings, though precious few, and many are of poor sound quality. Thanks to someone like Mark Ainley, who manages the Lipatti website, he is not forgotten.
Kapell (1922-1953) was considered by many to be the greatest of all young American pianists at the time of his untimely death in a plane crash. His legacy is also preserved, thankfully, on record.
While it is hard to reckon with the unfortunate nature of these circumstances, it is, none the less, a reminder that life is full of contradictions–like tragedy and success and the noble fight in the face of adversity.
Lipatti, in particular, who fought lymphoma in the late 1940’s when a cure was not yet possible comes to mind. His last recital which is preserved on a memorable concert recording was practically a “cavalry” experience for him. Short of breath and weak, he still persevered and made memorable, strong music. His death at 33 also lends itself to the Christ-like comparison, but perhaps that’s going too far.
This all puts me in mind of how writer Shelby Foote put these kinds of things into some perspective. Foote said that even though these harsh turns of nature were hard to negotiate, they were still “conditions of the tournament.”